In the UAE, 63 per cent of child deaths are caused by road accidents. As stated on the Abu Dhabi Health Authority’s official website, the major reason for this is that child passengers are not properly strapped in or seated properly.
This issue has been brought forward by many of our community reporters, with many of them highlighting the need for awareness campaigns as they come across children leaning out of car windows or standing up with their heads through the sunroof.
M. N. Vivekanandan, a student based in Dubai, has come across such incidents of careless behaviour on many of the interior roads and other slow moving traffic areas. More incidents are however visible now, considering the weather is better and people are driving with the windows down.
He said: “The main cause for this behaviour may be the fact that parents do not notice their children or are in a situation that demands their attention. This prevents them from refraining their children from the act. Also, many children do this for the thrill of the wind on their faces.”
In his opinion, it is a safety hazard as it not only puts the life of the child at risk, but also is a “potential cause of distraction for other motorists on the road”. If the child was leaning out of the window and screaming, it might be the cause of an accident for the vehicles in the next lane.
Vivekanandan said: “Parents need to educate their children on the necessity for safety on roads and also monitor their child’s behaviour in such situations. Having control of the windows, the driver is also involved to an extent in this act by not taking the measures to prevent it.”
He believes that child seats are essential in cars as they “not only provide extra support” but also prevent the child from getting involved in such acts. In case of an accident, the child seat will ensure that the child is safe.
Ramachandran Geethalakshmi, a legal consultant based in Dubai, has been driving in the UAE for 14 years and finds it “extremely distressing” when she comes across a child leaning out of a window. Though quite rare, she said that it is appalling to see such careless drivers, “considering the safety”. The children, she thought, are open to the risk of an accident.
She said: “I believe carelessness is the main cause for this behaviour. The driver, who is of course an adult, has gone through tests confirming his knowledge about driving and safety laws and is aware of the risks. He or she should be more cautious, alert and restrict children from such actions.”
She remembers an incident wherein a man was driving, accompanied by a woman in the passenger seat, and around five children were seated in the back. The children were “swaying out of both windows of the car, which was in motion”. In the Al Nahda 1 area in Dubai, the car was taking a sharp right turn at high speed. “One cam imagine the risk those children were made to face,” Geethalakshmi said.
The risk of the children falling out of a moving car is her biggest concern. As a mother, she ensures that her children are never left alone in the back seat. They are always accompanied by an adult and buckled up.
She said: “Parents are the first teachers for children and when we as parents are so careless, how can we blame the child for any outcome of such lackadaisical actions. When parents do not follow safety rules how can we expect children to do otherwise? As parents, it is our responsibility to protect our children from being so openly exposed to such grave risks.”
Sana Ahmad, a banker based in Abu Dhabi, believes that this carelessness on people’s part can lead to unwanted consequences, which could have been easily avoided had the parents been paying more attention.
She said: “Workshops should be conducted for drivers, especially parents. Close and stringent monitoring by the relevant authorities is also essential along with the implementation of fines to drivers for flouting child safety rules.”
Car seats for children are the best precautionary measure, in her opinion. Though not a mother, she said if she has children in the future, she would use seats for minors and ensure the child locks on the doors are on. “We should take safety precautions and not allow children to lean out of the car windows, especially without supervision,” she said.
Laxman Kannamkulath, a residents of Dubai, claimed to come across such incidents on a daily basis, but they were more common on the weekends as families would go out for a drive. He blames parents’ ignorant behaviour and is convinced that such people are “not serious about safety measures”.
He said: “The authorities need to conduct more public awareness campaigns for child safety on the roads as well as at the home or a public place, such as parks.”
A father of two children, he never allows the young ones to sit in the front. The younger son is always secured in a child seat and the older one sits with him. He urges parents to reinforce the message of safety amongst their children by practicing what they preach first.
Another issue that was raised by our community reporters was that of the safety of children when travelling on school buses. Neola Castelino, a pupil based in Dubai, has seen children jumping on the seats of a bus and screaming comments through the open windows at motorists or pedestrians.
She said: “They don’t obey the bus staff, who try to maintain the order. The main cause for this sort of behaviour is the lack of ‘car and travel safety’ manners, which should be either taught at home or at school.”
Her concern is what happens if the bus is involved in an accident. “Who would be responsible for this?” she asked.
If children are jumping around or leaning out, it could be a distraction for the driver, she believes. Her solution is to teach children in class about safety rules and schools needs to be strict in this matter.